Over 100 nations vow to act to reverse biodiversity loss

They say strong political momentum needed, adopt Kunming Declaration at UN summit

More than 100 countries have pledged to come up with an "ambitious and transformative" plan to reverse biodiversity loss, saying "strong political momentum" was needed to meet the "defining challenge of this decade".

The pledge was contained in the Kunming Declaration adopted yesterday during the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, also known as COP15.

The declaration was named after the Chinese city where COP15 is taking place.

The UN summit, the biggest global meeting on biodiversity, is taking place in two parts.

The first is being held largely virtually this week because of pandemic-related restrictions in China. There will be a second in-person round next year when a global biodiversity agreement is expected to be finalised.

The first part of the summit is seen as essential for generating momentum towards reaching such an agreement, which has been compared to the Paris Climate Accord for biodiversity.

Announcing the adoption of the Kunming Declaration, China's Environment Minister Huang Runqiu said its main purpose was to reflect "the political will of all parties and to send a strong message to the international community of our strong determination and the consensus in the field of biodiversity".

He emphasised that it was not a binding international agreement. Tough negotiations lie ahead as countries work towards a framework to guide efforts to safeguard nature and ecosystems.

But World Wide Fund for Nature International director of global policy and advocacy Lin Li said the declaration was a show of political will and "adds much-needed momentum" by signalling what needs to be done to address biodiversity loss.

"While it is highly significant that it recognises the aim of the framework should be to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030, its impact will lie in how it is put into action. It is still critical for governments to turn these words into reality," she said.

During their virtual discussions this week, those attending the summit in Kunming said the key was to ensure that targets or goals reflected in the eventual biodiversity agreement could be implemented.

Countries have already missed the 2020 biodiversity targets set a decade ago in Aichi, Japan.

Asked whether more ambitious targets are feasible, given that countries have failed to meet the 2020 biodiversity targets, Ms Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, a treaty ratified by 195 countries and the European Union, said lessons have been learnt from past failures, which will be built into the new framework. "There was progress made, although none of the targets were fully 100 per cent met... without which the devastation of biodiversity loss we're talking about today would have been different."

She told reporters that if the content of the new declaration is reflected in the new biodiversity pact, then "we will have moved 10 steps ahead".

Moving forward, negotiations will centre on a draft text called the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The current draft text spells out 21 "targets for urgent action" over the next decade. They include protecting at least 30 per cent of land and sea areas, eliminating plastic waste in oceans and adopting sustainable practices for agriculture, aquaculture and forestry.

They also include boosting investment in biodiversity protection to US$200 billion (S$270 billion) a year and reducing subsidies to industries that harm the environment by at least US$500 billion a year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2021, with the headline 'Over 100 nations vow to act to reverse biodiversity loss'. Subscribe